Alterations in thyroid function tests (TFTs) have been recorded during SARS-CoV-2 infection as associated to either a destructive thyroiditis or a non-thyroidal illness.
We studied 144 consecutive COVID-19 patients admitted to a single center in intensive or subintensive care units. Those with previous thyroid dysfunctions or taking interfering drugs were excluded. Differently from previous reports, TSH, FT3, FT4, thyroglobulin (Tg), anti-Tg autoantibodies (TgAb) were measured at baseline and every 3–7 days. C-reacting protein (CRP), cortisol and IL-6 were also assayed.
The majority of patients had a normal TSH at admission, usually with normal FT4 and FT3. Low TSH levels were found either at admission or during hospitalization in 39% of patients, associated with low FT3 in half of the cases. FT4 and Tg levels were normal, and TgAb-negative. TSH and FT3 were invariably restored at the time of discharge in survivors, whereas were permanently low in most deceased cases, but only FT3 levels were predictors of mortality. Cortisol, CRP and IL-6 levels were higher in patients with low TSH and FT3 levels.
Almost half of our COVID-19 patients without interfering drugs had normal TFTs both at admission and during follow-up. In this series, the transient finding of low TSH with normal FT4 and low FT3 levels, inversely correlated with CRP, cortisol and IL-6 and associated with normal Tg levels, is likely due to the cytokine storm induced by SARS-Cov-2 with a direct or mediated impact on TSH secretion and deiodinase activity, and likely not to a destructive thyroiditis.